The more I heard of Senator McCain’s story, the starker the contrasts became between the man who tried to become president and one who is president.
One was born into a family of service with a glowing history of military careers.
The other was born into a life of privilege and received huge monetary and business advantages from his father as he began his career.
One was an Air Force pilot in an unpopular war.
The other received numerous educational deferments, avoiding the draft.
One survived a deadly fire on an aircraft carrier, was shot down over Hanoi, knocked into unconsciousness by the ejection from his aircraft, shattered both of his arms and one leg, landing in a lake. He was fished out of the water by the enemy, stripped, spit upon, beaten, stabbed with a bayonet, interrogated and repeatedly tortured to the point of losing consciousness, starved to point of losing one third of his body weight, and suffered through several botched surgeries to set the bones in his shattered arms and leg. Broken, weak, and weighing one hundred pounds, he was not expected to live.
The other worked for his dad’s real estate business, rode in his limousine, ate at the finest New York City restaurants, and frequented the most outlandish clubs with beautiful women in tow.
One was trying to stay alive in a Hanoi prison, teaching himself how to walk again.
The other was building a glitzy real estate career in Manhattan.
One repeatedly refused a propaganda-induced release from his prison that he believed would show favoritism to him as the son of a high-ranking officer and dishonor his country. He endured over five years as a POW and was deemed a hero, receiving the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Flying Cross.
The other tried to model his life his life after his heroes, Hugh Hefner, Clint Eastwood, and the fictional character, James Bond.
One, required nearly a year of rehabilitation, eventually retiring from the Navy with lifelong physical disabilities. He continued his family’s tradition of service as a two-term congressman, and five-term senator from Arizona.
The other got rich off of branding his name and self-promotion.
One became known as a negotiator, occasionally defying his own political party to enact campaign finance reform, normalize relations with Viet Nam, and support the members of the military.
The other became a reality TV star, famous for saying, “You’re fired!”
One was feisty, principled, self-effacing, fighting for what he believed in the arena of government.
The other, wheeling and dealing, claiming bankruptcy for his various business interests six different times, while protecting his personal wealth.
One debated the issues on the floor of the Senate and in campaigns.
The other became proficient in using the media to build his personal brand.
One represented the people with character and class.
The other denigrated the handicapped, a gold star family, women, immigrants, and gave elementary-school-level nicknames to his opponents.
One stood by our friends and put our enemies on notice.
The other is friendly with our enemies and regularly turns against our allies.
This list could go on and on. While McCain wasn’t the Messiah and Trump is not the Antichrist, they have very different values and they lived very different lives.
Personally, I long for an aspirational leader, one who gives us something to live up to. Unfortunately, what is being modeled for us is a new low, a myopic, narcissistic, gutter-level approach that vindictively protects a fragile ego at all costs, striking out at anyone who disagrees.
I understand how so many of my friends could have voted for a straight-talking, supposedly very successful businessman who can cut through governmental nonsense to get a better deal for the average American. Supposedly, he would run the country like a business and drain the swamp. Yet, I do not understand how, over time, they cannot see through this carefully manufactured caricature and became as gullible as my grandmother who believed professional wrestling was real.
I am at a complete loss to explain why character has become a totally irrelevant issue. There are no glowing character references for Donald Trump.
A friend once boasted to me, “Immigration is down and the stock market is up.” I thought, that’s it? That’s all you care about? Are we more or less united as a nation, more or less civil in our discourse, are we moving forward on complex, pressing issues or stuck in partisanship gridlock, are we leading the world with our best values?
Lastly, Evangelical Christians have done more to hurt their credibility and the very mission of Christ by their support of Trump than they can imagine. He has been given a mulligan to use the terminology by one church leader. Another said he was a baby Christian and not familiar with the terminology. Seems like we will sell our soul for a few goodies.
While all of us are flawed and our past presidents have all been flawed, this president has been open about several of his affairs and accused of others. His tit-for-tat infantile narcissism is on display daily on Twitter. Even his friends want to break his thumbs. He commits unforced errors with alarming regularity. He is vindictive, narcissistic, and erratic to the point of having a toxic effect upon the entire nation.
We are better than this. We desperately need to be better than this.
Feisty and flawed as he was, John McCain gave a lifelong picture of someone who was far from a perfect leader, but was so definitely, better than this.